In our previous post, we shared 5 ways to encourage self-directed learning networks in the organisation. In this post, we have complied a list of adult learner characteristics, 10 tips to encourage adult learning and proposed ways to encourage self-directed learning in the organisation.
We have been reading up on ways to help companies increase profits, create brand awareness and increase customer loyalty in order for them to stand out amongst competitors. We came across a couple of websites discussing about creating and developing communities of practices as the new differentiator ( we will mention them below) and we decided to learn more on how to create and develop a corporate community of practice, in order for companies to have the new differentiator as a leverage. In this 3 part blog series, the first post will be on “What is a Corporate Learning Community of Practice, What Type of Community of Practice should Corporations Go Into, and How a Company Can Establish a Community of Practice”. The second post will be on the “Top 10 Tips to Creating a Community of Practice” and finally the last post will be on “The Benefits of Creating the Communities of Practice, (aka kaching!) and How ELearning and Mobile Learning Can Support It”.
What is a Corporate Learning Community of Practice?
Two definitions stem from Lave and Wenger’s 1991 work, the feature-based definition and the process-based definition. The feature-based definition simply comes from the words “community” and ‘practice”. Therefore a corporate learning community of practice refers to a community, in this case, employees, who share their professional knowledge through practice, rather than learning from experts or guidebooks. Employees mainly go through processes of joint problem solving, rather than from a more instructivist approach of experts or researchers transmitting knowledge to learners.
The process-based definition defines community of practice as “the process of knowledge generation, application, and reproduction is which communities are in a constant process of legitimate peripheral participation”. Through the participation, learners enter a community and gradually learn the practices. Over time, group habits and group identity may form, resulting in more and more central practices of the group.
“Employees mainly go through processes of joint problem solving, rather than from a more instructivist approach of experts or researchers transmitting knowledge to learners.”
Suppose you have a team of repairmen for printing machines. Instead of relying on manuals or attending workshops learning how the machines work and how to repair the machines, the repairmen can probably understand how to repair the machines more through the hands on experience or from one another while at work.
Corporate Learning communities of practice may be organized by an organization or through the employees’ initiatives. Participants may work in the same job role within an organization or cross departments. The communities can help with the mentoring of new employees who just joined the company, help disseminate processes and information as well as to engage in innovation projects to improve work processes or solve problems. The environment encourage collaboration of tasks, sharing of knowledge and resources as well as promoting professional development.
What Type of Community of Practice Should Corporations Go Into?
There are mainly 2 types of Communities of Practice, the self-organizing community of practice and the sponsored community of practice.
Self-organizing community of practice pursue the shared interests of the members in the group. They usually add value to the organization by sharing best practices, learning points from various situations/scenarios, providing solutions to issues and challenges through informal sharing or common learning platforms like forums. Due to the informal nature of such communities, (they usually arise because there is a need from the employees), they are less structured, less organised, but extremely resilient. There is no fixed management nor control over such communities as members come and go, depending on their professional needs, but the communities are resilient as they adapt over time and sharing of expertise and knowledge will increase broadly.
Sponsored communities of practice are initiated, managed and supported by the management. These communities of practice will be expected to produce quantifiable results or direct benefits to the company. There is more structure to these communities and formal roles, responsibilities and meetings will be assigned. In sponsored communities of practice, there will be distinctive objectives and targets to be achieved in terms of learning and collaboration from colleagues, leverage on the learning to increase productivity,improve efficiency, generating revenue, or tangible value-added benefits for the corporation.
“There will be distinctive objectives and targets to be achieved in terms of learning and collaboration from colleagues, leverage on the learning to increase productivity,improve efficiency, generating revenue, or tangible value-added benefits for the corporation.”
The expected outcomes for sponsored communities of practice will vary but in general, it should compass the following:
- Fostering learning
- Encouraging interaction
- Sharing professional knowledge or even creating new knowledge
- Identifying and learning from best practice
Whether a corporation decides to have self-organizing communities of practice or sponsored communities of practice depends on the work related function of the role or profession. Generally, a sponsored community of practice would be more ideal when corporations want to :
- Manage knowledge
- Generate intellectual capital
In the following situations, self-organising community of practice may form:
- Recurring problem during work process such as production, distribution, purchasing or customer sales
- New hires
How Can You Establish a Community of Practice?
Communities of Practice can emerge through formal planned processes or spontaneously. An example for formal planned processes, is upon completion of a training or workshop, an online forum is established and employees can use it as a platform to communicate, share information as they apply the training skills they learnt.
Spontaneous communities of practice takes place any time, any where. Employees might discuss about the unique situations they face during lunch breaks or when they bump into each other at the pantry. Social media sharing and collaboration may also take place as they share resources or ask for guidance or solutions on platforms such as Twitter or Linkedin. These communities are mainly participant driven and does not require support from the management.
Corporations can also have multiple communities of practice addressing different needs with different participants. There are many ways to establish a community of practice. It can be a single approach or a multiple approach using social media platforms or tools.
“Corporations can also have multiple communities of practice addressing different needs with different participants.”
- Social bookmarking or Sharing
Social bookmarking allows the sharing of URLs at a social level. A group can be set up for all members of the community to access. With social bookmarking applications like Diigo, notes can be added and important points can be highlighted.
Another useful tool is Evernote, where notebooks can be shared among different communities of practice and the content of the notebooks is entirely customisable. The content of the notebooks can be anything from links of articles, extracted information of company’s guides, manuals or curated information by the members. As long as the members share the notebook, anyone can add links, extract information from articles, annotate and access the information any time they want by logging into their Evernote account.
- Private LinkedIn groups
Linkedin groups are another possible social media platform which communities of practice can personalize, do collaborative learning and create a performance support group online. Posts can be shared and social interaction regarding unique problems can raised and answered by the members of the group. The settings of the group can be set to private and only members of the group can see the interaction in the group. Members can then gain a sense of trust amongst one another, which will in turn enable them to feel comfortable enough to interact with one another, forming a community of support.
“Through the collaborative process, members of communities of practice can develop professionally in a continuous manner.”
Communities of practice can take place during onsite meetings as well. Through the collaborative process, members of communities of practice can develop professionally in a continuous manner. Innovative measures need not always be from a “top down” management approach, but a “bottom up” initiative originating from employees working on the ground.
In our next two posts,we will discuss 10 Tips on Creating Communities of Practice and the Benefits of Creating Communities of Practice. If you have comments or thoughts, do share your ideas with us by leaving your comments below!
If you are interested, these are the online resources we have been reading on to learn more about Community of Practice.
Tech Thursday is a blog series where we feature industry people, corporate learners and trainers on their e-learning habits. It covers everything from the e-learning they do in their company to the one tech device they can’t live without. This Thursday, we feature Weihao, who is a Senior Client Service Representative in a financial services company. He shares with us the multitude of training opportunities his company provides for them and how his company values talent and develops them by spending time and resources on flying trainers from other countries to hold training sessions for the staff.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where do you work at and what is your designation?
I am Weihao. I graduated with a Bachelor of Business (Economics & Finance) from RMIT. I am currently working in a financial services company as a Senior Client Service Representative.
What kind of training do you do in your company?
My company offers a multitude of training opportunities and I appreciate that. The training opportunities range from on the job training, WebEx training (live or on demand training), to dedicated on site trainers and e-learning modules that staff can take. All staff are also required to complete a certain number of hours of training per year.
“My company offers a multitude of training opportunities and I appreciate that. The training opportunities range from on the job training, WebEx training (live or on demand training), to dedicated on site trainers and e-learning modules that staff can take.”
How do you usually go through training?
I am fortunate to be in a company that values talent and is willing to spend time and resources on us to help develop us professionally. The company will frequently fly trainers from around the world to conduct face to face training sessions for us. These trainings are usually geared towards teaching soft skills such as how to handle difficult clients. We have also recently added a trainer to be located on site in our Singapore Office and that would allow for more trainings to be conducted.
For e-learning modules, we can simply log in to our company’s intranet to subscribe to the modules and take them any time we want. The modules cover a spectrum of content including both hard skills and soft skills. There is usually an assessment conducted at the end of the module to assess our understanding of the session.
There are also WebEx knowledge sharing sessions conducted by both internal or external parties for us to keep abreast of developments within the financial industry. The Q&A sessions at the end are always great opportunities for us to ask questions to deepen our understanding.
Lastly, seniors and team leaders will also conduct on the job training from time to time to impart their experience and knowledge to the junior partners.
“I am fortunate to be in a company that values talent and is willing to spend time and resources on us to help develop us professionally.”
What do you like about the different forms of training that you have?
The training methods are varied and training focuses on both hard skills and soft skills.
Other than the training provided by your company, do you actively seek out other ways to improve how you do your job? If yes, how do you do so?
I actively follow financial news through news sources such as Bloomberg or Business Times. My company also offers free online subscriptions to various financial news providers which we can access at our leisure.
What kind of tech devices do you use?
I have a smartphone.
What is one device you can’t live without, and why?
My smartphone. I use it to stay in touch with the news.
What is the one technology tool that has helped you a lot in learning? Why?
The internet. All sorts of information and knowledge are now conveniently available at the click of a button.
As a young child, I used to wonder at the night sky, looking at stars and clouds drifting by. It always got me wondering about why I came into this world and whether my existence mattered. What would I be remembered for? Would my actions help to change and improve the lives of others? What mark would I leave in this world? That’s a thought that I’m sure many of us will have at some point in our lives. We all have this innate need to feel that our lives have a sense or purpose, that our existence matters.
When I first entered university, it seemed like everyone in my field of study (Economics) wanted to be researchers, consultants and bankers. I, however, wanted a job that would directly help someone in need. I started to wonder if I was really in the wrong course. That was until I stumbled onto ‘Social Entrepreneurship’.
The idea that I could exercise my creative juices, be entrepreneurial and help someone was revolutionary to me. I always believe that everything in life is a delicate balance and Social Entrepreneurship was the sweet spot that reconciled the economic concepts that capitalism could better people’s lives and the sad reality of corporate greed getting the better of societal needs. It also showed me the way in which I could improve people’s lives, while earning a living.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship programmes always get me so excited. Due to a combination of reasons- a deep conviction that we should never quell a child’s thirst to question (and I feel the I&E programme allows these students to express their inner scientist), the belief that the younger a person, the easier it is to inculcate problem-solving skills in them, thus making it all part of the process of learning which can be applied to academic subjects. It’s interesting how I usually see the best ideas get born from young children and their free minds, which care less about what people think of them, or how their ideas may or may not be practical.
So, I was really looking forward to the I&E programme at Tanjong Katong Primary School. It is a year-end enrichment programme for Primary 4s and 5s. In this short 3-4 days, students learn about how to take a day to day problem, solve it, and turn the solution into something that could be practically used by their target users. We conducted this programme through a mix of theoretical instruction, games and practical group work. Students, through learning about innovating (which might be completely new to some of them) get to apply these skills by working in a group to come up with an idea.
After a quick introduction to the class and ice breakers, we dive into the depths of our programme. What is the definition of innovation? We try to get the students interested by showing them real-life examples of what innovations may be.
If innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a good or service that creates value or for which customers will pay, whether these ideas are innovative are then rather subjective. Students learn that in order to create something that could sell, it needs to create value to a substantial number of users for them to be economically viable.
Students are then called to go into their respective class groups to identify problems in their daily life. For this activity, we make use of what we call a thematic photo journal to get them to identify problems and empathise with users (part of the whole process of Design Thinking, a way of problem-solving). As usual, the students were all pretty quick to identify problems (and some of them were even well on their way to sketching out solutions way before I asked them to!)
In solution formation, we introduced the idea of lateral thinking through a simple game of droodles, getting them to generate as many solutions as possible. The students simply loved the droodles activity as they could come up with as many interpretations of the doodles as possible. After which their creative juices were ignited and many of them came up with very interesting solutions for their challenge.
Day 2 was extremely exciting as the students were introduced to the idea of prototyping, a low-cost and low-res way of modeling their solution to test it to get user feedback. My P5 class was a cacophony of activity as students buzzed around with corrugated cardboard, tape, glue, paint and recycled materials, trying to work out how to make their ideas come into a physical form in order to show others.
POSTER MAKING + PRESENTATION
Students were introduced to poster making- visual advertisement as a way of explaining product features to their target users. I turned this class into a role play session, where students pretended that they were a sales team trying to push their product into the market by first convincing their classmates to buy their product. They did it through the use of an AIDA framework when creating their posters. Many came up with ingenious ideas of how to sell their product (some of them included promotion and selling a social cause, all concepts that we covered in class).
At this end of class, all of them had the chance to be in front of the class presenting their prototypes and to be part of the panel to pose questions to their classmates. It was great seeing them so enthusiastically pitching their innovation to their classmates. I eventually picked 3 groups (out of 6) to be part of the school hall exhibition to be displayed the next day.
The students really outdid themselves in the school hall exhibition! Many of them, conventionally shy, even during the presentation, manage to sell their ideas really well to their peers and juniors visiting their booths. A grand total of 19 P5 teams took part in the exhibition and the class got to check out the innovations of their school mates. You can check out the video of the programme! 🙂